Sunday, April 14, 2013

London Landmarks in Wartime

by Grace Elliot

The iconic photo of St Paul's Cathedral during the Blitz, WW2.

As a writer of historical fiction, I aim to bring the past to life. To help imagine the sights, smells and sounds of the past, it's become a bit of a hobby of mine, to visit historic sites in London. This can be a bitter-sweet experience because some of important houses are now surrounded by the most monstrous architecture - a result of the rapid rebuilding of areas destroyed during the Blitz in World War II.

The original St Paul's Cathedral - destoryed during the Great Fire of London, 1666.

One of the great survivors of WWII was St Paul's Cathedral. Of course the original cathedral was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The original building was in a poor state of repair in the 1660's. Wooden scaffolding erected to effect repairs on the damaged roof was in part responsible for kindling the flames that ultimately destroyed the building.

The replacement cathedral was designed by Christopher Wren and took nine years of planning. Construction started in 1675 and it took 35 years to complete the build. The greatest challenge to the survivial of this iconic building came during the Blitz when the German Luftwaffe bombed the capital for 67 consecutive nights.
St Paul's in the modern day.
Author's own photo.
That St Paul's survived was down to the courage of the fire-fighters assigned to protect the iconic landmark. 29 bombs fell in or around the environs of St Paul's and one devide landed on the dome, smashing through to lodge in wooden supporting timbers. The fire-fighters had to climb up through the rafters to get to the bomb, and accidently dislodged it where upon it fell to the ground and was disarmed.
Now, as then, the city streets crowd in around St Pauls.

Fire-fighters were an important part of keeping London safe. Impromptu fire stations were set up throughout the city to keep a watch for incendiary bombs. As you can see in the photo below, houses such as that of the famous lexicographer, Dr Johnson, were enrolled as fire stations.
17 Gough Square, Dr Johnson's house (dark brick building at the far end of the square.)

Fire-fighters relaxing whilst on watch at Dr Johnson's house.

The same room, restored to how it was in Johnson's day
Fortunately, Dr Johnson's house survived intact, but not all places of historical significance were so lucky. The Chiswick home of the 18th century artist, William Hogarth was not so fortunate. A parachute bomb landed on the house and it was gutted. Fortunately, in later years the house was restored and is now a wonderful evocation of how it was in Hogarth's day.
Hogarth's House - now restored to its 18th century glory.
Hogarth's House - gutted by a parachute bomb during WWII

Grace Elliot leads a double life as a veterinarian by day and author of historical romance by night. As well as being passionate about history, Grace is obsessed by all things feline… and bearded dragons.
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Coming June 2013!


  1. You do such an excellent job with these posts. Enjoyed it very much. Will be visiting London in July. Keep up your good work.

  2. i like the way you have explain this is the very informative post



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